On the third stop of its nationwide American Gaming Small Business Jobs Tour, American Gaming Association (AGA) advocates stopped in Hanover to help mark the Live! Casino’s fifth anniversary.
The Live! at 5 celebration on June 22 coincided with a Minority Outreach Fair, an event aimed at connecting small, minority and women-owned firms with prime companies interested in doing business with the casino. AGA officials said the outreach event augmented the message they were promoting on their tour.
“Casino gaming is a strong community partner in Maryland and across the country, where hundreds of thousands of small businesses are supported,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of AGA.
The casino gaming industry supports 350,000 small business jobs nationwide, he said, and nearly 3,000 in Maryland.
The casino industry is a $240 billion-a-year industry that supports 1.7 million jobs nationwide. In Maryland, gaming employs 11,000 people, supports $446 million in wages and generates $1.7 billion in economic impact.
Since casino gaming opened in Maryland, the state’s casinos have provided $1.8 billion to the Maryland Education Trust Fund, which supports pre-K-through-12 public education, public school and higher-education construction and capital improvements projects at community colleges.
In an AGA report released earlier this year, the gaming industry’s Impact on Small Business Development in the United States examined nearly a dozen U.S. small gaming markets, and assessed casino gaming’s direct and indirect impact on local small businesses. Researchers from Spectrum Gaming Group concluded that gaming’s largest impacts are concentrated in small to mid-sized communities where local businesses are integrated into gaming operations.
Areas surrounding the state’s six casinos receive 50% of the Maryland Casino Business Investment Fund. In Anne Arundel County, the program has resulted in $11 million in loans, nearly 300 new jobs and $25 million in new investment since 2008.
According to Cordish Companies CEO of Resorts and Gaming Entertainment Joe Weinberg, Live! Casino employs more than 3,000 workers and is the largest taxpayer in Maryland.
“Over the last five years, we have paid about $1.4 billion in gaming taxes to the state,” he said. “$1.1 billion has gone to the education trust fund in Maryland. Just over $111 million has gone to the community in local impact grants. We’ve also paid about $1 billion in salaries and wages over the past five years.”
Investment and development continues at the casino, where a new, $200 million hotel is under construction that will deliver more than 300 rooms and suites, a large convention facility and upwards of 1,000 new jobs, as well as restaurants and a new music venue when it opens in the early part of 2018.
“We’re hoping to be able to accommodate all of our local school and college graduations that, as of now, have to go outside of the county,” Weinberg said.
Don Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, chaired the state’s Video Lottery Facilities Location Commission that evaluated and selected the location, as well as the operators, for gaming operations in Maryland; the state’s first casino opened seven years ago.
“I’ve seen the positive impact, first-hand, that the industry has had in Maryland,” Fry said. “Gaming has proven to be that catalyst for economic development, an employer for thousands [of workers] and a major source of tax revenues. We want to talk about how gaming can continue to thrive in the years ahead.”
According to Freeman, the industry’s strength lies in its ability to adapt to customer interest.
“What works for today’s customer probably won’t work for tomorrow’s customer,” he said. “The Maryland market is proven to be highly interested in table games in a way different from [markets] across the border [in surrounding states]. It’s amazing, the microclimates you get. We’ve been able to adapt very quickly, to make sure we can continue to deliver [to customer expectations].”
Gaming advocates have now cast an eye toward adding sports betting to casino markets across the country — to help legitimize and regulate the illegal betting that is already occurring — and give patrons a new experience.
“We need tax policy that encourages that, regulatory policy that embraces that, and we need to get the federal government out of the way when it comes to allowing Maryland and other states to allow sports betting, something people across this state want to do,” Freeman said.
Addressing the local impact from her role as chair of the Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County board, Erin McNaboe said having the casino has helped the tourism bureau with branding, as tourism evolves and visitors look for different things to do.
“There’s a wonderful synergy going on between Live! and Arundel Mills mall, which is fabulous for the tourism industry,” McNaboe said. “Being able to say we have the No. 1 Zagat-rated steakhouse, the Prime Rib, right here is a good thing.”
Lyn Hopkins, incoming president of the Assistance League of the Chesapeake, credited the casino for its support of the nonprofit’s Operation School Bell program.
“We’re smallish, and Maryland Live! has been such a valuable partner,” Hopkins said. Noting that 592 of the county’s homeless children attend elementary school, “we’ve provided 520 school uniforms for homeless children in two Title 1 elementary schools we work with, and we’ve also provided books to those two schools, Van Bokkelen and Meade Heights [elementaries, with the casino’s help].”
Edwards & Hill Office Furniture Managing Partner Tony Hill said his company continues to benefit from Live!’s proximity.
“They’ve helped us grow; we opened with seven employees and are now up to 22,” Hill said. “The longevity of the relationship is the major benefit. It helps small businesses like mine create a pipeline of business; [the casino] wasn’t just business-friendly when it first opened; we’ve consistently done business [with Live! Casino], and we’re working with them on the hotel, as well. [We’ve seen it as] an investment in the community for the long haul.”
State Sen. Ed DeGrange, who represents District 32 (where Live! is located), said he saw $400 million leaving Maryland annually before the casino was built.
“The horse racing industry [was] stagnant,” he said. “We have some of the highest rents for apartments in the county here in this neighborhood. Some said it would destroy [housing] values, but values have been growing.”
“When we come into communities, there are perceptions and misperceptions,” Freeman said. “We want to shine a light on what the industry’s actually doing. The only place where our industry today faces misconceptions is in the markets in which we don’t operate.”
Maryland, he said, has been a special case.
“The level of thoughtfulness that went into where these properties are located, how they interact with the community, was [positive],” he said. “You have different types of destinations; there’s distance between them. I think the state is well on the road to maximizing the potential that the casino industry can bring. That’s something other states are looking at Maryland might just be the model.”